Efforts to eliminate free plastic bags from Richmond’s retail outlets are picking up speed. The West Contra Costa Integrated Waste Management Authority (Recyclemore) this week completed a 30-day study into a proposed ban on the distribution of free plastic bags by businesses in Richmond and four other cities.
The study sought public input and comments on the proposed ordinance, which would ban all retail establishments within the cities of Richmond, El Cerrito, Hercules, Pinole and San Pablo and unincorporated sections of Contra Costa County from distributing free single-use plastic bags to consumers.
According to Recyclemore representative Chris Lahon, the study was conducted at a cost of $25,884 and received comments from seven people and entities, including the Save the Plastic Bag Coalition, a San Francisco based group opposed to the ban on plastic bags.
If passed, the ordinance would only allow non-profit organizations and restaurants to distribute free plastic bags and require other retailers to charge a fee for each carry-out plastic bag distributed. The ordinance would also require that plastic bags contain at least 40 percent of recycled materials.
“The initial study period closed today [Wednesday] and we will be responding to the issues raised by members of the community in the coming weeks,” Lahon said, adding that the association would also be analyzing the amount of plastic waste generated by the communities by community size.
According to a previous study conducted by Recyclemore, consumers in the five cities, with a population of just over 240,000, use at least 127 million plastic bags each year, generating several tons of plastic waste that ends up in water sources and landfills or choking drainage systems.
“West Contra Costa County and its cities are spending a considerable amount to address litter in the storm drains,” the initial report found, “Contra Costa County spent $28,500 on catch basin cleaning in 2011 and the City of El Cerrito annual street sweeping and disposal costs are $150,000.”
Richmond residents alone use at least 52 million plastic bags a year and just 7 million paper bags, according to Recyclemore’s initial study, with the other four cities contributing the rest.
The initial study also found that the City of San Pablo spends at least $293,000 annually on liter removal, which includes creek cleanups, street sweeping, clearing clogged storm drains and conducting public awareness campaigns.
“Eight percent of the litter collected in San Pablo is plastic bags,” the initial study found, “Meaning $23,440 of the annual cost can be allocated to plastic bag litter removal.”
Some of the Richmond residents who participated in the study said they were in support of the ban, which they said would help current conservation efforts in a city already grappling with host of environmental issues.
“We have enough environmental problems here in Richmond and I think that we should follow the example set by other cities and ban free plastic bags,” Dave Lester, a Richmond resident who participated in the study said. “It is difficult to get people to think about the impact of their decision to use plastic bags on the environment if they are just getting them for free.”